On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate

On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate ★★★★½

“Even though it’s difficult to be a human being, still, let’s not turn into monsters, okay?” A plea Kyung-soo initially scoffs at, though he’ll eventually feel compelled to make it to others two different times. If Hong’s earliest films feature some of his most rigidly imposed structures, here Kyung-soo’s more than happy to create his own repetitions and seek out echoes himself. “His fate is like a Buddhist priest,” a fortune teller says of him. “Destined to roam throughout the mountains, he’s turned his back to the world.” But when his wanderings might reach some sort of destination, maybe even enlightenment, he just turns around and keeps on moving because he’s too hungover to care anyway (“It’s just like any old gate, nothing special”). The settings are the stuff of gentle pastoral, but this may be Hong at his most withering; a damning portrait of lovelessness that builds to perhaps my favorite single moment in all of Hong’s cinema. Kyung-soo may not ever turn into a monster, but left alone in the rain maybe he’s found himself turned into the snake of the turning gate legend instead; his dim but still crushing realization that he’s just another sad imitation of a tale of sad, bad men told for centuries.

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